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Scroll to find my publications in Metaphysics and in Philosophy of Religion, as well as my drafts and book projects




Presentist Perdurance and Parthood

(Philosophical Perspectives, Forthcoming -- PDF / Doc)

Sometimes people want to combine Presentism with perdurance.  For instance, one may want to endorse the claim that, though Presentism is true, there’s still a completely natural divide between things like you that persist three-dimensionally, and entities like events that persist four-dimensionally.  This paper explores whether there’s an intuitive way to allow for this combination, while allowing for a very broad conception of perdurance, not giving up the spirit behind Weak Supplementation, not appealing to non-existent parts, and without fragmented reality or a pluralistic mereology.  

The Overlap Problem

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(Philosophical Studies, 2021 -- PDF / Doc)

It is common to think it is possible for entities to spatially coincide in multiple ways: with overcrowding (as two bosons might if they aren't made of anything in common), and without overcrowding (as with a statue and a lump of clay). Typically, we can distinguish between these by claiming uncrowded spatial overlap involves a sharing of parts, and crowded spatial overlap does not. However, if we think mereologically unusual entities, such as extended simples or some kinds of gunk, can also spatially overlap in crowded and uncrowded ways, we lose the ability to distinguish between those varieties of spatial overlap via appeal to shared parts. Thus, we should either reject the possibilities that generated this difficulty, or we must look for an alternative explanation of these varieties of spatial overlap.

Fusion First


(Nous, 2019 -- PDF / Doc)

Logics of part/whole relations frequently take parthood or proper parthood as primitive, defining the remaining mereological properties and relations in terms of them. I argue from considerations involving Weak Supplementation for the conclusion that we should take fusion as our mereological primitive. I point out that the intuitions supporting Weak Supplementation also support a stronger principle, Weak Supplementation of Pluralities, and that the principle can only do the work demanded by our intuitions when formulated in terms of a notion of fusion that cannot be defined merely in terms of mereological properties and relations, logic, and a membership relation. So, insofar as we think any definition of fusion must be so restricted, we have motivation to take fusion as primitive; further, we have greater insight into the motivation for our supplementation principle and which version of that principle we ought to endorse.

Refining Four-Dimensionalism


(Synthese, 2017 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: Central APA, 2015))

The current formulations of Four-Dimensionalism either require needless commitments about the structure of time, or require needless commitments about how liberally entities decompose into parts. Though we could settling for a family of four-dimensionalist views each catered to the other views we endorse, this is unsatisfying: there seems to be some persistence-related natural feature(s) that they all share, in virtue of which we put them in the same group. I will argue for an alternative formulation that avoids these problems. My aim is to capture the central mereological component of Four-Dimensionalism, while showing that it is possible to give a formulation that is sufficiently neutral with respect to related claims.

At It Again: Time-Travel and Motion


(Erkenntnis, 2017 -- Doc / PDF)

The At-At Account of motion says that, necessarily, something moves if and only if it’s at one place at one time, and at a distinct place at a distinct time. This, many believe, is all that motion consists in. However, I will present a case in which, intuitively, motion does not occur, though the At-At Account of motion entails that it does. I then turn to the only tenable response that avoids revising the At-At Account: denying the possibility of my case. I argue that the response is both contentious and fails to defend the spirit of the At-At Account qua reduction of motion.

Extensionality of Proper Part Containment


(Philosophical Quarterly, 2017 -- Doc / PDF)

Achille Varzi has argued that it is harder to deny Extensionality than we may have thought:  he argues that if we define proper parthood as parthood with distinctness, cases we take to violate Extensionality do not really involve sharing of all proper parts.  Aaron Cotnoir responds by defining proper parthood as asymmetric parthood.  I offer a new response:  there are versions of Extensionality very similar to the one Varzi and Cotnoir discuss, which are violated in cases traditionally taken to be anti-Extensional, even when the traditional definition of proper parthood is endorsed.  These modified versions of Extensionality allow theorists to capture senses in which Extensionality is violated in these cases, without this merely amounting to a violation of Uniqueness of Composition.

Placement Permissivism and Logics of Location


(Journal of Philosophy, 2016 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: Berkeley, 2015)

All of the current leading theories of location are parsimonious: they have at most one locative primitive, and definitions of the other locative relations appeal to nothing beyond that primitive, mereological features, and basic logic. I argue that if we believe there can be extended, mereologically simple regions, we can construct cases that are incompatible with every possible parsimonious theory of location. In these cases, an object is contained within a simple region that is larger than the object; that is, there is some region, r, and some object, x, such that every subregion of r fails to be completely free of x, yet x fails to fill r. I argue that we ought to respond to this incompatibility by rejecting the analytic possibility of extended, simple regions.

Fundamentality and Time-Travel


(Thought, 2015 -- Doc / PDF)

The relation of being more fundamental than, as well as the Finean notion of partially grounds, are widely taken to be irreflexive, transitive, and asymmetric.  However, certain time-travel cases that have been used to raise worries about the irreflexivity, transitivity, and asymmetry of proper part of can also be used to argue that more fundamental than and partially grounds do not have these formal properties.  I present this worry and discuss several responses to it, arguing that this problem is harder to address than the problem applied to proper parthood.


Shaping Up Location: Against the Humean Argument for Extrinsicality of Shape

(Philosophical Studies, 2015 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: Pacific APA, 2015)

Recent arguments against the intrinsicality of shape appeal to a plausible Humean principle. The arguments say that if shape is intrinsic and the location relation is fundamental, then we cannot explain the necessary correlation between an object’s shape and the shape of its location. And the Humean principle rules out such unexplained necessary connections. I reject this application of the Humean principle. Sometimes there are truths about what it means to stand in a given relation, even when that relation has no analysis. And these truths entail that certain features are had by the relata of the relation. Lacking an explanation for these sorts of truths is not problematic. I argue that it is plausible to take is located at to be such a relation.

Reasoning Without the Principle of Sufficient Reason

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(The Puzzle of Existence: Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?, 2013 -- Doc / PDF)

According to Principles of Sufficient Reason, every truth (in some relevant group) has an explanation.  The presupposition of reason defense of PSRs says that our method of theory selection often depends on the assumption that if a given proposition is true, then it has an explanation, and this assumption is only justified if we think this holds for all relevant propositions.  I argue this defense fails even when restricted to contingent propositions, and even if there is no non-arbitrary way to divide true propositions with explanations from those that lack them.  Further, we can offer an alternative explanation of how we select theories: we believe that, prima facie, we should prefer theories with more explanatory power.  Unlike a PSR, this prima facie guiding principle provides justification where we seem to have it, and not where we don't.

Repeatable Artwork Sentences and Generics

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(Co-authored with Jake Ross, Art and Abstract Objects, 2012 -- Doc / PDF)

We talk about repeatable artworks, like symphonies, films, and novels, all the time. We say things like, "The Moonlight Sonata has three movements" and "Duck Soup makes me laugh". We argue against the view that the subjects of these sentences refer and the sentences are true iff the referents of the subjects have the properties picked out by the predicates. We consider and reject two alternative responses that involve reading these sentences as generics, similar to "The polar bear has four paws". The first response takes these sentences to be about kinds, and the second takes the relevant noun-phrases to act as predicates. We offer a third alternative informed by both, and which enables us to deny the existence of repeatable artworks while endorsing the truth of sentences seemingly about them.

Multilocation and Mereology


(Philosophical Perspectives, 2011 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: USC, 2010)

It has been pointed out that Three-Dimensionalism runs into trouble with Weak Supplementation. But I argue that regardless of one’s theory of persistence, the possibility of any one of several kinds of multilocation are incompatible with the necessity of the Transitivity of Proper Parthood, the Asymmetry of Proper Parthood, and Weak Supplementation. In fact, positing even the mere conceivability of multilocation will require the denial of the analyticity of these principles. Some have claimed that we ought to relativise parthood, to one region or to two. But if we replace our mereological axioms with region-relativised counterparts, we cannot capture the intuitions that supported the original axioms. I argue the only adequate solution is to restrict multilocation to a domain outside the scope of the rules we intuitively take to govern the parthood relation. For those who take our mereological axioms to be necessary and universal, this will mean denying the possibility of multilocation.

Some Things About Stuff

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(Philosophical Studies, 2007 -- Doc / PDF)

I examine the implications of positing stuff (which occupies an ontological category distinct from things) as a way to avoid colocation in the case of the statue and the bronze that constitutes it. When characterising stuff, it’s intuitive to say we often individuate stuff kinds by appealing to things and their relations (e.g., water is water rather than gold because it is entirely divisible into subportions which constitute or partially constitute H2O molecules). I argue that if this intuition is correct, there are important restrictions on how we can characterise stuff in order to avoid colocated portions of stuff.



Simple Trinitarianism and Empty Names

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(Religious Studies, 2018 -- Doc / PDF)

According to Simple Trinitarianism, God is mereologically simple (He has no parts distinct from Himself), and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not identified with any entities in our ontology. In this way, the Simple Trinitarian is able to avoid conflating Persons or multiplying Gods, and does not have to identify the Persons with minor entities or entities partly disjoint from God, such as modes, events, or properties. However, in order to maintain that Trinitarian sentences are nonetheless true, our Simple Trinitarian will need a non-standard semantics. I explore just one option for this, which involves taking "the Father", "the Son", and "the Holy Spirit" to be empty names. By adopting a positive, Free Logic, we can take these names to make semantic contributions and play roles in true sentences, while blocking problematic inferences such as the one "The Father is God and the Son is God, and the Father is distinct from the Son" to "There are at least two Gods".

The Experiential Problem of Petitionary Prayer


(International Journal of Philosophy of Religion, 2018 -- Doc / PDF)

Sometimes we petition God for things through prayer. This is puzzling, because if God always does what is best, it is not clear how our prayers can make a difference to what God does. Difference-Making accounts of petitionary prayer attempt to explain how our prayers can nonetheless influence what God does. I argue that, insofar as one is motivated to endorse such an account due to wanting to respect widespread intuitions about this feature of petitionary prayer, they should also be motivated to endorse an account of prayer that respects widespread intuitions about other central features of petitionary prayer. I describe three problematic cases and the intuitions we have about them, and show how these intuitions restrict any Difference-Making account of petitionary prayer.

Atheistic Prayer

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(Faith and Philosophy, 2017 -- Doc / PDF)

It is widely assumed that atheists cannot pray to God. Theists argue that "foxhole conversions", when atheists pray while in dire circumstances, show that atheists are prone to convert to theism. Atheists argue that it's inappropriate for theists to ask for prayers from them, for supplying those prayers is incompatible with atheism. In this paper, I argue against the assumption that atheistic prayer to God is impossible. Just as one can direct communication toward someone even when they disbelieve that the person exists, one may direct prayers toward God while disbelieving that God exists. I defend this view against objections, and show that on this model of prayer atheistic prayer is on a par with theistic prayer in many more ways than one might expect.

Simple Trinitarianism and Feature-Placing Sentences


(Faith and Philosophy, 2016 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: Oxford, 2016)

Some trinitarians, such as Aquinas, claim that God is mereologically simple; that is, God has no parts distinct from Himself. I present Simple Trinitarianism, a view that takes God to be simple but, unlike Aquinas, does not identify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with anything in our ontology. Instead, the view incorporates resources used in metaphysical debates about Ontology to produce the right results for claims about the Persons of the Trinity. I focus on just one possible semantics a Simple Trinitarian may give: taking Trinitarian claims to be translatable into feature-placing sentences, which are taken to posit property instantiation without requiring commitment to any objects that instantiate those properties.

Many-One Identity and the Trinity


(Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, 2012 -- Doc / PDF)  (Audio: Austin, 2010)

Trinitarians claim there are three Divine persons each of which is God, and yet there is only one God. It seems they want three to equal one. It just so happens, some metaphysicians claim exactly that. They accept Composition as Identity: each fusion is identical to the plurality of its parts. I evaluate Composition as Identity's application to the doctrine of the Trinity, and argue that it fails to give the Trinitairan any options they didn't already have. Further, while Composition as Identity does give us a new way to assert polytheism, its help requires us to endorse a claim that undercuts any Trinitarian motivation for the view.



Decompositional Plenitude

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(R&R -- PDF / Doc)

I present and motivate a new form of plenitude. According to Decompositional Plenitude, there is some object, x, that fuses some ys and yet has some part that is disjoint from each of the ys. This view opens new options for the sort of metaphysics we may endorse in a wide range of areas. For instance, it provides us with new responses to the Problem of the Many and to the Problem of Change (across time and across space), it helps us solve Russell’s Paradox of Propositions and a related paradox applied to hylomorphism, and it allows us to describe cases we may posit if we accept liberalism about how things can decompose. More generally, it allows us to avoid having to select just one way things decompose among multiple, merely arbitrarily differing, at least partly disjoint alternatives. And even more strikingly, it allows us to posit multiple, at least partly disjoint decompositions in cases where those decompositions differ substantively, each capturing something important about the world. Finally, I argue that we can endorse Decompositional Plenitude with minimal cost if we also endorse a fusion-first mereology.

Hylomorphic Change

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(With Maegan Fairchild -- PDF / Doc)

Jeffrey Brower has presented an Aristotelian account of change that has a structure similar to a temporal parts account, but which is friendly to Three-Dimensionalists. On this solution, temporary objects have temporary properties and persisting objects as parts, and persisting objects (in some sense) derive temporary properties from the temporary objects they are successively parts of. We raise a dilemma for this view: either the solution cannot account for facts about how objects change in parts over time, or it requires rejecting the claim that, for any object, if it has a part present at a region, then the object is partly present at the region. We explore how theorists who endorse a hylomorphic view of material objects may be able to reject some common connections between parts and places, but we argue that they will not have plausible grounds to reject the principle about partial location when applied to material objects.

Resisting Rip-Current Resources

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(PDF / Doc)

In academic settings when encountering oppression, we are often encouraged to work within the system to seek change.  Even in the most well-intentioned circumstances, these options for assistance can be what I'll call rip-current resources.  I provide a new analogy for a familiar concept, and compare it to similar resources provided for victims of abuse.  I'll give examples of problematic resources and their effects, and then will give suggestions for how, within an academic setting, one may strive to be a positive and productive resource rather than a rip-current resource.

Tensed Mereology Without Nonexistent Parts


(PDF / Doc)

In this paper I examine the details of how we may develop a tensed mereology that produces the right results for perdurers and endurers, without appealing to non-existent parts, and without requiring a pluralistic mereology or a fragmented reality.  I will sketch multiple ways we may try to build up a mereology from tensed atomic propositions involving a mereological primitive.  I'll identify choice-points for how truth of these tensed atomic facts relates to facts about existence, presence, and containment of the objects involved, and the implications for what our defined mereological relations (and the rules involving them) look like.  Finally, I'll sketch my preferred tensed mereology, which is closely based on a relativized version.

Conditional Desires - Last Updated 06-2007

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(Doc / PDF)

There’s an intuitive distinction between two types of desires: conditional (desires for things such that we want to get them only as long as we’ll still want them when we get them) and unconditional (desires for things that we want to get regardless of how we’ll feel about them later). Derek Parfit has suggested that we interpret conditional desires as desires involving certain conditionals – that is, that we interpret them as being implicitly conditional upon their own persistence. While this account seems intuitive, I argue that it is incorrect. I examine several ways of cashing out conditional desires in terms of conditionals, and show problems with each. I then present a trilemma against this way of interpreting conditional desires, based on problems independent of those already mentioned. Finally, I conclude by noting that the problems I raise apply to a wide variety of accounts, not just those involving conditionals, which leaves us with an interesting puzzle: we have an intuitive, easily graspable distinction, and difficulty in accounting for it.



In Progress:  Parts Across Space and Time


(Under Contract, OUP)

I am currently in the process of drafting a book-length manuscript that brings together many of the central themes in my papers, and that allows me to present and argue for my positive views and draw out the implications of my arguments. My central aim in the book is to argue for the thesis that, necessarily, any objects that persist across time or space have smaller parts in each of the smaller regions they fill. The structure of the book is as follows:


I begin with stage-setting, with a focus on what our aims should be in presenting theories of parthood and location. In particular, I address the largely neglected topic of what explanatory role these theories should be playing. I note that philosophers often ignore cases that strike them as impossible, when in fact they should look to their theories to explain why these things can’t obtain. I use this methodology to argue for an amendment to the canonical theory of parthood.


Once I have set out my methodology and a background of theories of parthood and location, I begin arguing for my moderate metaphysical views. I argue using strange cases I’ve built up from possibilities many philosophers accept. I present worries using cases involving multilocation, cases using extended simple objects, cases involving colocation, and cases involving infinitely divisible objects. I explore how we might revise our theories of parthood and location in light of these cases, but claim that it is less costly to keep our theories unaltered and reject the possibility of these strange cases. Following my own earlier advice, I note that it is not enough to claim the cases are impossible; we must also explain why they are impossible. I sketch some alternatives for explanation.


Once we reject the possibilities that led to these cases, we are left with the theory of persistence through time and space that I prefer. I conclude my manuscript by examining two implications of this view: first, I argue that it is incompatible with Three-Dimensionalism. This involves a foray into examining alternate formulations of the central competing views of persistence through time.


Next, I look at the implications for the topic of how to understand debates about parthood, location, and persistence. Some philosophers think that these metaphysical debates are illusory; when people debate about persistence, for instance, and think they’re disagreeing about something substantive, they’re really just describing the same thing in two different ways. On one version of this view, there’s just matter spread across spacetime, and we’re differing in how we use language to divide it up. But: the assumption about how matter relates to spacetime that these metaphysical deflationists are making is itself a significant metaphysical claim! And that claim must be argued for. My work can be seen as friendly to these metaphysical deflationists, then, because I begin by assuming their opponent’s position (in taking these debates seriously), and end up arguing for a conclusion that is required for this version of the view that the disagreements are not substantive. (Though I do not endorse metaphysical deflationism myself.)


Thus, though the cases I consider are strange, I argue for conclusions that are modest and intuitive. And though my work consists of unapologetically and wholeheartedly doing central Metaphysics, my hope is that it is informative for even the most Metaphysics-averse.

Edited Volume:  Mereology and Location


(Published by Oxford University Press, January 2014)

Table of Contents

Shieva Kleinschmidt: INTRODUCTION





Mereology and Location



6: Daniel Nolan: BALLS AND ALL


Interaction with Other Topics





This is a compilation of new work by leading philosophers on the topics of Mereology and Location. They discuss how we ought to axiomatise our mereology, whether we can reduce mereological relations to identity or to locative relations, whether Mereological Essentialism is true, different ways in which entities persist through space, time, spacetime, and even hypertime, conflicting intuitions we have about space, and what mereology and propositions can tell us about one another. The breadth and accessibility of the papers make this volume an excellent introduction for those not yet working on these topics. Further, the papers contain important contributions to these central areas of metaphysics, and so are essential reading for anyone working in the field.

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